Well ... now we've seen everything. This juvenile grey whale spotted off the coast of San Diego in the US is missing a very important body part.
As you can see in the video, the whale's tail has been completely severed (fluke, I am your father) – most likely as a result of entanglement in fishing gear. Astoundingly, the amputee appears to be getting by despite the injury, and was last seen heading north alongside two adult grey whales. "It was migrating along, although a little slower than what we usually see –about three knots instead of four or five," says Dana Wharf Whale Watching captain Tom White.
You might notice a reddish hue on the whale's stump, but fear not. Though the injury is thought to be somewhat recent, what you're seeing isn't blood (or infection for that matter). It's actually something far more benign: whale lice! They might look like bothersome parasites, but these tiny orange crustaceans actually pay rent for their ride by feeding on dead skin and damaged tissue. For a whale like our 'Flukeless', they're an asset.
Interestingly, Flukeless isn't the only maimed grey whale meandering along North America's Pacific coast. She/he (we don't know for sure) occupies the same waters as another unbelievable success story – and this particular whale I've had the pleasure of encountering in the wild: 'Scarback'. Scarback was hit by an exploding harpoon in the early '80s, leaving a giant hole in her dorsal (top) side. But thanks to the thousands (yes, thousands ... click at your own risk) of whale lice keeping her infection-free, she has been seen cruising the coastline for three decades. "They're pretty resilient animals," says marine biologist Carrie Newell, who has been working with grey whales since 1992. "I've actually seen others with the tail injury, and surprising as it may be, they actually do quite well."
Top header image:Blake Matheson/Flickr